New Orleans evacuation slows as shooting, chaos erupt
* Mayor issues SOS for refugees
* Senator says thousands could be dead
NEW ORLEANS: Gunshots and mayhem hampered the evacuation of flooded New Orleans on Thursday and more troops were ordered in to assist and control crowds of desperate survivors trying to escape Hurricane Katrina’s destruction.
Shell-shocked officials tried to clamp down on looting in the historic jazz city reduced to a swampy ruin by Monday’s storm. Bodies floated in the streets, attackers armed with axes and steel pipes stripped hospitals of medicine and authorities said they could still only guess at how many people had died.
“We don’t have numbers. It could be in the hundreds, or the thousands,” Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said of the statewide death toll. “I think it’s going to be shocking.” As many as 400,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.
Violence broke out in pockets of New Orleans among the wandering crowds grown hungry, thirsty and desperate to escape the flooded city and 32 degrees Celsius temperatures.
Boat rescues were delayed because of the danger and police rescuers shifted their focus to fighting looting and other crime that gripped the city. A National Guard official said as many as 60,000 people had gathered at the increasingly squalid Superdome stadium for evacuation.
But the evacuation was suspended after reports that someone fired at a military helicopter sent to ferry out survivors. A National Guard soldier was shot and wounded in the arena on Wednesday.
Nearly 5,000 National Guard troops were mobilised in Louisiana. The military said the number would rise to 21,000 by Friday and 30,000 in the next few days. Thousands waited hours or waded through floodwaters to catch rides out of New Orleans. Buses shipped survivors from the Superdome 560 km west to another stadium, the Astrodome in Houston.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin issued an urgent plea for relief, saying the city lacked food for thousands of refugees and buses to evacuate them, CNN reported.
“This is a desperate SOS. Right now we are out of resources at the Convention Centre and don’t anticipate enough buses. Currently the Convention Centre is unsanitary and unsafe and we are running out of supplies for 15,000 to 25,000 people,” he said.
Elsewhere in New Orleans, gunshots repeatedly rang out and fires flared as looters broke into stores, houses, hospitals and office buildings. reuters